1637 The Volga Rules – Snippet 25

Chapter 9: The Northern Route

TwinLo Park, outside Grantville

August 1636

“Good afternoon, Your Highness,” said Brent Partow. “Let me start by introducing you to Captain John Adams. No relation to the founding father of the USA, at least none that we know of.”

“Captain?” Prince Vladimir Gorchakov offered his hand, but looked to Ron Stone to tell him what was going on.

Ron shrugged in shared confusion. “I mentioned your problems to Trent the other day because Twinlo is good at finding solutions. He called me yesterday and asked if I could bring you out to see a possible solution.”

“Herr Partow?” Vladimir asked.

“Cap, here, is a retired sea captain and a down-time naval architect. But he’s spent the last couple of years in Grantville trying to learn about up-time ship design. He wants to build ships and he’s actually been to Mangazeya, and not that long before it was shut down. I got to talking with him about an ice breaker and he thinks he may have a solution.”

“You have my full attention, Captain Adams,” Vladimir said, and Ron nodded his agreement.

“Well, a steel hull is out of the question, of course. I shudder just thinking how much that amount of steel would cost. It’s also not really necessary. The Pomors, the Russian settlers up there in the far north, have a two-masted ship called a ‘koch’ that is fairly good at making its way through the ice. They are small, though. Less than a hundred tons usually. When I looked up ‘icebreakers’ in the state library, I learned that much of their design is not exactly taken from the koch hulls, but more grew out of them.”

Vladimir nodded and the captain, seeing no objections, continued. “The arctic kochs have a rounded design below the waterline, so that if they get caught the ice will push them out without doing too much damage. And if you just added a steam engine to such a design, you would have something that would mostly work . . . if the ice wasn’t too thick. I don’t think they would work in hard winter, though. For that I think you will need something to break the ice. And I think I have that thing.”

Vladimir looked around and saw Brent Partow grinning like he was about to hear the punch line to a joke, and Vladimir started to get nervous.

“After I got to Grantville and saw a bulldozer, I got interested in tracked vehicles and continuous track vehicles.”

Yes, Vladimir thought, the joke is definitely on me.

“I was impressed by the paddle wheels on your riverboats, but they are awfully big for the paddles. That’s a lot of extra weight to drag through the water. So I thought about using continuous track rather than wheels to put the paddles on. I researched it and learned that while military tracked vehicles like tanks use treads that are integral to the chain, civilian ones like on bulldozers have removable treads that can be changed out without damage to the chain.”

“Excuse me, Captain, but what does –” Vladimir started.

“Give him a minute, Your Highness,” Brent Partow interrupted. “It does all fit together and you do need the background. It’s a new system and it has more than one application. But until Ron brought me the question about icebreakers, the uncertainties outweighed any potential benefits. One of the drawbacks of tracks is that they tear up the ground . . . and that’s precisely what you want in an icebreaker. So hold your questions till the captain has a chance to explain, please.”

Vladimir looked over at Ron Stone, who nodded then shrugged and waved the captain to continue. Captain Adams kept talking, and his ideas did hang together, at least as harebrained schemes went. Vladimir was familiar with kochs, though he didn’t know them as well as Captain Adams apparently did.

This might work. Maybe.

After the meeting, when Vladimir talked it over with Ron, they agreed that it was at least worth a try. The ship Captain Adams wanted would be a three-masted koch-style sailing ship with steam engines. It would carry five hundred tons of useful cargo, aside from engines and fuel. Which would make it a lot bigger than any koch yet built, but not bigger than ships already being built by the shipyards in Hamburg.

“With luck we’ll be able to find something already under construction, but not so far along that we can’t modify the designs,” Ron told Vladimir. “I’ll telegraph our agent, Kristof Klein, and have him see what he can find.”


Brandy was working on the patent application for the chamber-loading rifle when Vladimir got back to Russia House. Part of the agreement that Vlad had made with Czar Mikhail was that the Gorchakov family would get the international patents to anything independently developed by the Dacha. And, depending on how you interpreted the contract, anything developed with Dacha input. Since Sheremetev had become Director-General, there had been a number of challenges to those patents. Mostly from people who owed fealty to the Sheremetev clan or one of the clans that supported them. Brandy had ended up in charge of fighting those claims.

“Are Russian lawyers worse than German lawyers?” Brandy asked as Vlad came in.

“Isn’t that a bit like asking which lightless cave is darker?”

Brandy grinned and kissed him on the cheek. “More like which avalanche is heavier. And the only honest answer is ‘the one I’m under.’ ”

“Besides, didn’t the Russian embassy hire a German law firm?”

“Yes, but never mind that. How did your meeting with Ron and Brent go?”

“John Adams wants to send a tank across the polar ice to Russia.”

“John Adams?”

Suddenly Vladimir remembered Brent Partow’s comment. “Not that John Adams. A real person from our time. He’s an Englishman, a captain and a ship designer. Apparently some friend of Brent Partow’s.”

“Okay. What was that about a tank?”

So Vladimir told her about his meeting with Ron, Brent and Captain Adams. Then she told him about the ongoing legal wrangling with the embassy in Magdeburg about which of them was the legitimate representative of Russia. It was important, though not quite as important as it might become later, since the up-time notions of diplomatic immunity and diplomatic status in general were still in their infancy and not fully recognized by the USE.

Then they went in to have dinner. By now Brandy was used to being Princess Brandy Gorchakovna, with all that entailed. They went in to see little Mikey. They had named the baby Mikhail Vladimirovich and left it for history to decide whether Vlad named him after Czar Mikhail or Brandy named him after Mike Stearns. He was happily playing with his milk sister, Branya, under the supervision of Branya’s mother, Eva Mateevna. They played with little Mikey for a few minutes, while they continued to chat about the situation in Russia.

They were behind the curve, but between Boris’ sons and Fedor Ivanovich Trotsky — who was loyal to Vladimir because his family was on the outs with one of the clans on Sheremetev’s side — they had a pretty good idea of what was going on. Or at least what had been going on a month or so ago. “By now the army is probably on the march and the last report that the dirigible provides says that there is a steady flow of serfs and a trickle of streltzi and minor nobility to Czar Mikhail’s colors,” Vladimir said.

“Which won’t do much good, unless we can get them arms and the tools to start up an industrial base,” Brandy said. “In freaking Siberia, of all places.”

It was an old discussion that they had gone over again and again in the last months. Czar Mikhail’s loyal people needed tools and they needed something to pull the lower nobility away from Director-General Sheremetev. Vladimir didn’t see how Czar Mikhail could hold out with just a bunch of runaway serfs on his side.